March 12, 2010

Well, the Senate Dems passed this yesterday. But the bill only applies to the eligibility period. It extends the deadlines for the unemployed to receive extensions, but it doesn't add any additional weeks for the two million Americans whose benefits are running out. Call your senators and tell them we need Tier 5 extensions:

Yesterday the Senate approved HR 4213, the Tax Extenders Act of 2009, by a 62-35 vote. As you can see from the roll call, every Democrat present except Ben Nelson of Nebraska voted for the bill. All but six Republicans (Kit Bond of Missouri, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, David Vitter of Louisiana and George Voinovich of Ohio) voted against it. Republican Scott Brown of Massachusetts voted for the cloture motion to let the bill proceed but against the bill.

Senator Tom Harkin's office summarized some of the $140 billion bill's key provisions:

o Extend the current federal unemployment benefits program through Dec 31, 2010.

o Extend the federal funding of the state share of Extended Benefits through Dec 31, 2010.

o Extend eligibility for the temporary increase of $25 per week in individual weekly unemployment compensation through Dec 31, 2010.

o Extend the 65 percent subsidy for COBRA coverage through Dec 31, 2010.

o Extend the Medicare payment fix for doctors.

o Extend FMAP, the federal share of Medicaid payments, to give state budgets some relief.

Last week, Congress passed a 30-day extension of the federal unemployment benefits program (through April 5th) and the extension prior to that continued unemployment benefits for 2 months (from Dec 2009 to Feb 2010).

But Rick Ellis reports that actual extensions are may still in the works as the House and Senate bills are reconciled, although he's doubtful it can be passed and signed before April:

The Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) included in the stimulus package created three tiers of additional coverage. Tier one typically lasts up to 20 weeks, Tier two typically lasts up to 14 weeks, Tier three typically lasts up to 13 weeks. For those who have exhausted a regular unemployment account and federal EUC, there is are also Federal-State Extended Benefits (EB) which can run up to an additional 13 weeks. These numbers vary a bit from state-to-state, but the bottom line is that no one is able to get unemployment benefits longer than a total of 99 weeks.

The current jobs bill doesn't extend any of those tiers or add any additional coverage, such as a fourth or fifth tier.

What it does do is extend the deadlines for people to move from one tier to the next. Prior to the “phase out” period, if an applicant exhausts a tier of EUC benefits, he/she moves to the next tier. If he or she exhausts the third tier of EUC, he or she moves to Federal-State Extended Benefits. Under federal law, when the “phase out” period begins, applicants will no longer be able to move from regular UI to the first tier of EUC or from one tier of EUC to the next.

Instead, if an applicant exhausts regular UI, or the first or second tier of EUC, he or she will move directly to Federal-State Extended benefits. The new legislation moves the beginning of the phase out period from April 5, 2010 to September 5, 2010. But by the end of 2010, everyone's extended benefits will have been exhausted, whether they have moved through all the tiers of coverage or not.

Bottom line: It's important to call your senators and tell them to support an additional Tier 5 extension.

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